When you start talking about peas, people from the Northeastern United States are picturing English Peas; but people in the Southeastern United States are picturing blackeyed peas, purple hull peas, crowder peas, cream peas, lady peas and any of the dozens of other field peas which have long been a staple in the South. My personal favorite is the pink eyed purple hull pea. The pink eyed purple hull is an heirloom, bush pea. It loves hot weather, doesn’t require a lot of water, doesn’t need fertilizer, is an abundant producer, is easy to pick, and it tastes delicious. As an added bonus, it puts a lot of valuable nitrogen into the soil. In our area you can get two plantings over the summer; so we get two to four bushels of this pea out of the garden each year. You pick fresh purple hulls when the pods are dark purple but still soft. They are great when fresh shelled and fresh cooked, and the fresh frozen ones taste almost as good; but in a grid down situation frozen peas won’t last long. You could can the fresh peas, but that is sure a lot of work. In pre-refrigeration days the way to long-term store peas was to dry them. When dried and stored in dry, air-tight containers they are edible for years and remain viable for seed easily for two or three years.
Drying peas requires no shelling and no dehydrator. All you have to do is just leave them on the vine and, when the plant dies, they will dry nicely on their own.
The dried pods will be brittle and a light brown in color as opposed to the soft, pliable, dark purple pods of fresh peas.
Dried peas are also much easier to shell than fresh peas. The following photos illustrate how I thrash and winnow a small quantity of dried peas. The time to trash and winnow is on a dry, sunny day when a good wind is blowing.
First I spread a tarp on a table top and lay out my dried peas on it. A couple of hours of hot sun will drive the last of the moisture out of them and assure that the pods are nice and brittle.
Next step is to use your hands to start crushing up the dried pods. The vast majority of the peas will separate from the pods at this point.
To further separate the peas, pick up handfuls of the pods and rub them between your palms. Continue this rubbing until the pods have been reduced to small fragments. This will complete the trashing process.
Now you need to separate the chaff (crushed up pods, etc) from the peas. To do this you need a good stiff wind, or if it’s a calm day you can set a fan next to the table and turn it on high (obviously this won’t work in a grid-down scenario).
Pick up a double handful of peas and chaff, raise your hands a couple of feet above the table, and let the peas and chaff slip out from between your hands. The peas, which are heavier than the chaff, will fall straight down onto the table. The chaff will be carried away by the wind.
Continue winnowing over and over until most of the chaff has been removed.
Now set a wide pan on the table and, using small quantities of peas at a time, drop them down into the pan.
You should end up with a pan full of pretty clean peas. You may have to pick out a few pieces of chaff from the pan, but it shouldn’t be too many.
Store your cleaned peas in air-tight containers and you will have a good long-term source of protein and seed for next year’s planting.
If you are processing a lot of peas, the same principles apply; but instead of a small tarp on top of the table, you can lay a large tarp out on the ground. Instead of crushing the pods in your hands you can walk on them. Just make sure that your shoe soles are pretty flat and don’t have lugs or deep treads. For winnowing you can place a few handfuls of broken down peas and chaff in a wide shallow basket or an upside down trashcan lid and toss the stuff up into the air and let the peas fall back into the lid. You will have to toss the same batch several times in order to remove the chaff. Be sure and stand over the tarp when you are winnowing so that any peas that you don’t catch will fall back onto the tarp. This takes a little bit of practice, but after the first bushel you’ll be doing it like an old pro.